Back to Writing / 10-25-2005

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Nelly Recchia. Click to view gallery
The visions of Nelly Recchia are as shocking, mournful and complex as the work she ultimately creates. Technically, this French-Italian artist is a body painter, but the title doesn't truly capture her role, skill or dark imagination. Recchia transforms her models into haunting visions of pained puppets through transcendent makeup, lighting, poses and photographs. She spoke with us about the theory of beauty, the media's role in it and the metamorphosis of her human canvases.

Sez G: You first received an education in artistic makeup before you started painting bodies. What IS artistic makeup and how does it differ from makeovers and beauty school?

Nelly Recchia: I would say that makeup has different purposes. In my case, I want to push the boundaries of what is qualified as "beauty" in our societies. My tools are still makeup and brushes, but in its whole, the goal is not to fit some standard. It is more to express feelings and emotions with those tools using a human body as a canvas... It can be like a makeover, since you can completely transform someone when pushing makeup to that extreme.

As far as the word "artistic," well…maybe. I think nowadays, the word "art" is unfortunately used very loosely. Too many people are walking around with the label "artist" (or even better, "genius") because they stitched two pieces of fabric together or made a blue dot on a white canvas!

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Sez G: What's the beginning of the creative process like for you? Do you conceptualize the piece and then find a model to fit your intention? Or do you come up with an idea after seeing the model's shape? Or do you begin work on the body and let it develop organically? Or...

Nelly Recchia: Usually, I know exactly what I want to represent, and I've created it in my sketches. Then I think of the body type and personality that would "wear" the paint very well. I love to work with ballet dancers; they have a grace and intensity in their poses that I want in my work. They also have a very high endurance, which is very important since the sessions are very long.

Sez G: Yes, I've read that some of your sessions last 13 hours! It must be such an intimate experience, climaxing with an intense and sensual living work of art. Can you set the scene for me? What kind of communication do you have with the model during the painting? Do you chat, is there music, and what kind of lighting do you use?

Nelly Recchia: It depends on the model, but we usually talk a lot and go into very deep, philosophical topics! Sometimes, we will be very quiet and have music on, or I might even put some movies on so they can be entertained while I am painting them. If I have the choice, I'd rather work under natural light.

Sez G: When does the photographer enter the scene and how much collaboration is there between the two of you and the model on the lighting, pose, etc? Do you (or someone else) photograph any of the work as it progresses?

Nelly Recchia: I usually have a very precise idea of what I want on a photographic level. Before I start painting, we all have a brief meeting about the lights and the poses. I am working more and more with photographer Judson McKelvey. His work is very good, he understands my visions, and he is a very kind and genuine man. He sometimes shoots images while I am working.

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Sez G: Are you present for the washing off of your work? How does it feel to see it removed? Do you view the model differently afterwards?

Nelly Recchia: I am not present for the washing off! Haha! I don't mind at all knowing that after hours of work, it will all disappear in a few minutes with a shower. I actually like this idea. However, if the camera were not there to capture the work, I think it would be a different story. I am usually relieved when I have the pictures in front of me.

Sez G: Where are you from in France and when did you move to LA?

I was born in a small town called Clermont-Ferrand, right in the middle of France. I grew up in my family's junkyard, which was the perfect playground! I moved to LA about 4 years ago.

Sez G: Which leads me to Hollywood… it perpetuates many unachievable standards in beauty and body type, yet you create such a striking, different version of beauty and personality. Are you finding LA conducive to or restrictive of creative inspiration?

Nelly Recchia: You see, being French with Italian roots, I was raised with a respect for the elderly, and aging is considered a natural, graceful stage of life. Being in LA has made me realize that there is a real fascism to youth and beauty.

The media is feeding a theory that the only thing that matters is how one looks. Talent? Intelligence? Respect? No. And everyone ends up looking like empty clones with no substance at all.

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But it's not just in LA; being "all about the appearance" is a worldwide disease. Sadly, I can feel pressured by this too. At the same time, it feeds my desire to create imagery counterbalancing this absurdity. Thanks to interviews like yours, I can also share my point of view on the subject. It is very important to me.

Sez G: Your perspective definitely comes through in your art! You have done work with big-time stars (Madonna, Marilyn Manson, Robert Downey Jr.) as well as lesser known fetish models, ballerinas, etc. Does your artistic process differ for the famous, the infamous and the unknown? How about for men and women?

Nelly Recchia: Under my brush is a human face or body, regardless of the fame. I put the same amount of passion and respect into my work. Whether I use men or women just depends on the concept I have in mind. The problem sometimes with male models is that they have hairy torsos and legs! (laughs) They are usually happy to shave for the occasion.

Sez G: You've kept a lot of your work off the internet with the intention of revealing it to us in your book. Tease! How is it going and when can we expect it?

Nelly Recchia: I am still talking with different publishing companies. I want it to be the right choice for everybody. My website will offer information about the book as it develops. It will be a good thing to finally share all these hours of labor and tormented visions of mine!!!

We can't wait to see it! If you'd like to learn more about Nelly Recchia, visit

Nelly Recchia - by Sez G.